The Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (FACT Act) or H.R. 906, claims to “weed out unmeritorious class action claims,” according to Forbes. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) reintroduced the act, which met tough opposition from veterans, teachers and first responders during its last run, hoping this year a Republican majority in both houses of Congress will see the bill signed into law.
The FACT Act passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 19-11 vote Feb. 15. Though it has managed to slip back onto the docket, all of the previous opposition still applies, as Legal Newsline confirmed it was the same version as last year’s bill.
The bill is designed to limit plaintiffs’ ability to “double-dip” into the asbestos injury trust system, according to a press release by the Judiciary Committee. The system was created when about 100 companies that were frequently named defendants in asbestos lawsuits filed bankruptcy to create trusts to compensate victims without having to go through the civil courts, according to Legal Newsline.
Asbestos exposure, in even the smallest amounts, has been linked to the development of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen and, rarely, the heart. There is no known cure for mesothelioma.
The bill claims to reduce abuse by requiring asbestos trusts to file quarterly reports “that shall be made available on the court’s public docket,” according to the bill, and contain information about the demands of and payments from the trusts. It would require “each demand the trust received from, including the name and exposure history of, a claimant and the basis for any payment from the trust made to such claimant.” The act, therefore, would require a person’s name, last four digits of his or her social security number and certain financial information that was once private to be made public.
While the bill uses the guise of transparency, in reality it poses identity risks to mesothelioma victims and burdensome new requirements that will delay justice for and drain funds from those suffering from asbestos exposure. In letters opposing the most recent legislation, six privacy groups and 16 consumer groups echo concerns over invasion of privacy and delays of justice.
“The FACT Act would create conditions that are ripe for scam artists and identity thieves to prey on all victims of asbestos exposure who have filed claims with trusts established to ensure compensation for harm caused by asbestos corporations,” the letter from privacy groups reads.
The issues addressed in those letters are compounded by letters of opposition from last year’s failed attempt to pass the bill, which eventually stalled in the Senate. “The bill is a cynical ploy by the asbestos industry to avoid compensating its victims who are seeking justice in court – many of whom are veterans who were doubly exposed; first while in uniform and when they went on to work for companies that knowingly exposed them to the deadly fiber,” more than 15 veterans groups wrote in a letter opposing the act last year, according to MyMeso.
Consumer groups, including the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Alliance for Justice, contend the call for transparency is completely one-sided and violates the name and premise of the act: “Far from being even-handed, this bill allows defendants – and only defendants – to do an end-run around state rules of discovery that place limits on information-gathering. The bill would tip the scales of justice in favor of asbestos defendants by giving defendants access to information about victims’ settlements with asbestos trusts while allowing defendants to continue hiding information about their settlements with other victims.”
The FACT Act has been rolled into H.R. 985 as the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017, and is scheduled for a House vote on March 9, 2017. Opponents of the FACT Act are urged to call their congressional representative to express their opposition to the bill.
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Rhon Jones is head of the firm’s Toxic Torts section, handling matters involving workplace exposure to hazardous substances as well as environmental pollutants and other toxic exposure. You can contact Rhon for more information about asbestos and mesothelioma at 334-269-2343 or email Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com.
U.S. House of Representatives – Judiciary Committee
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization
Center for Justice & Democracy